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Terry and Susan Whittaker have learned over the years that there are key elements to growing a successful business. At the top of the list are a great, knowledgeable staff and a core of loyal customers mixed with a dash of good timing and a little luck.
It’s a strategy that has worked for their store, Viewpoint Books, which is celebrating 40 years among just a handful of independent booksellers in Columbus.
As an expression of gratitude to former employees and the Columbus community, the Whittakers are hosting an anniversary celebration at their store Saturday.
The event will feature a guest book-signing and drawing demonstration by Columbus native David Williams plus a free concert featuring the Knox College Jazz Combo.
Viewpoint Books’ loyal following began soon after Susan Whittaker’s parents, the late Charles and Rae Edwards, opened the store in the original Commons Mall in September 1973.
In 1979, the Whittakers left their careers as social workers in northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County near South Bend to take over ownership of the store.
“It wasn’t what we originally thought we would be doing the rest of our lives,” Susan Whittaker said. “But it became very attractive to us, and we both love to read, so it worked out well.”
In an age of ebooks and online publishing, brick-and-mortar booksellers have started to become a rare commodity. But Susan Whittaker said today’s market isn’t a bad place to be if you’re a small business owner.
“The buy-local movement is really getting some traction,” Susan Whittaker said.
Customer Jacquie Franz agreed and said she’s shopped at Viewpoint since it opened.
“I just think an independent bookstore is a tremendous asset to any community,” Franz said.
The biggest draw for customers such as Franz is Viewpoint’s customer service and knowledgeable staff, she said.
“I haven’t gotten a bad book recommendation from Terry yet,” Franz said. “If there’s a book they don’t have, they’ll get it.”
Barb Tuttle has shopped at Viewpoint Books for more than 30 years and said shopping online doesn’t provide the same experience.
“Some people just like to hold a book in their hands,” Tuttle said. “The Whittakers make that possible, and they make such wonderful recommendations.”
The loyalty of customers such as Franz and Tuttle has helped make Viewpoint Books a staple of the downtown marketplace.
When the store moved from the Commons Mall to its current location in August 2007, the seamless transition was made possible with the help of the store’s devoted customers.
In the days leading up to the move, customers began to offer their assistance, and the Whittakers took down names.
On moving day, the Whittakers, their staff and nearly 40 customers loaded the entire store onto book carts on loan from the Bartholomew County Public Library and wheeled them down Washington Street to the store’s new home.
“We started at 8 a.m. and had everything moved and on the shelves in four hours,” Susan Whittaker said.
The much-needed help touched both of the Whittakers, and even Terry admits getting sentimental about it.
“The thing that got me was, when it was done, these people thanked us for letting them help with the move,” Terry Whittaker said.
In addition to Viewpoint Books’ customer service, the store offers regular programming to the Columbus community, including a biweekly children’s story time and a monthly book group.
And when it comes to community events, the Whittakers are always promoting and offering assistance.
“There’s no one who walks through our door who asks for donations that can’t come up with something,” said store manager Melinda Clark. “We don’t always offer monetary donations, but we offer merchandise.”
The Whittakers understand that flexibility is essential in a market that ebbs and flows.
“You have to change and adapt,” Susan Whittaker said. “You can’t continue doing business as usual.”
Many people consider Viewpoint Books to be a “mom and pop” store, but that isn’t the case, Terry Whittaker said.
“We have a website that is fully functional that you can order from,” Terry Whittaker said. “We also do things other big chains don’t do, such as finding used and out-of-print books to order for customers.”
The couple isn’t shy about their future plans. Looking ahead to retirement in a few years, they would like to think Viewpoint Books will continue to thrive.
“We’ve put the word out that we’re not going away anytime soon,” Susan Whittaker said. “But I would love to find some younger person who wants to run a bookstore and would be interested in buying this one.”
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